You’re Fired!

In the simplest terms, we were thrown under the bus.

Sometimes marketing agencies get fired, and Mustang Marketing (my agency) is no exception. Sometimes it’s for legitimate reasons (we screwed up), sometimes it’s a change in business models (bringing the marketing team in-house) and sometimes it’s for silly reasons (too many to list). Whatever the reason, it always hurts but, if handled correctly, it can also be instructive and serve as a learning experience.

But sometimes, we have to fire clients. I have written in past posts about doing an annual review of our clients at the end of each year and evaluating them for compatibility, profitability and, for lack of a better term, “funability” (do we enjoy working with the people?).

We have been very fortunate that over the last three years, almost without exception, our clients have wanted to stay with us. And even better, we did not have a single client that we didn’t want to continue working with. But that has changed a bit this year, and just this week we had to let a couple of clients go.

The first was simply philosophical. Every invoice was challenged. Even though the fees were agreed to, the invoices seemed to trigger a desperate need to renegotiate. It was unpleasant and unprofessional, and the amount of paperwork required for final payment was becoming too burdensome. So, we made a business decision and resigned.

The second was an issue of character. Through a client of ours, we were working with a third party — one we were not allowed to have contact with, which, not surprisingly, made for difficult communications. There was a variety of communication errors that led to mistakes along the way that, while corrected, were time consuming for us and frustrating for everyone involved. Toward the end of the project, an email from our direct client was forwarded to us and we were directed to read through the pages of emails, sort out the conflicting direction and make the final changes.

However, while reviewing the documents, I found that all of the mistakes made by the client were blamed on us and in a less than flattering way. In the simplest terms, we were thrown under the bus.

I called the client immediately and she apologized, saying anyone would do the same thing to protect their reputation. I pointed out that her finger pointing came at the expense of my reputation and that, no, not everyone would do what she had done. She let me know it was the cost of doing business. I told her the cost was too high and resigned on the spot. She seemed shocked and upset and asked what she was supposed to tell her boss. I suggested she tell him she screwed up and now needed to find another agency.